In many ways, the 19th century was the period that truly shaped America and prepared it to become a global leader. Some of the most significant events in American history took place during this period. Following is a brief timeline that highlights these events from 1801 to 1900.
Thomas Jefferson became the 3rd President of the United States in 1801. He believed in the rights of the individual states and took many important measures during his Presidency. He was elected a second time and continued as the President until 1808.
Louisiana Territory was a huge parcel of land that stretched from the Canadian border in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south and from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. Before 1803, France owned these territories. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson oversaw negotiations with France which led to the purchase of these territories. This famously became known as the Louisiana Purchase and it immediately doubled the size of the United States.
In 1804, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on an expedition. They sought to explore and map the western territories that had been added to the USA through Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned them to carry out this task. The expedition reached the Pacific coast and then made its return journey. It reached back in 1806 with maps, reports, journals, and a vast body of findings.
In 1808, Thomas Jefferson’s second Presidential term came to an end. He was succeeded by James Madison. Madison was elected the 4th President of the United States. He was famously known as the Father of the Constitution. Madison served for two consecutive terms and important events during his Presidency include the War of 1812.
In the early 19th century, relations between Britain and USA began to worsen. One of the key reasons was the ongoing war between Britain and France. The USA wanted to maintain its neutrality but Britain wanted the USA to stop trade with France. To this end, Britain started impressing American ships and sailors. This finally led President Madison to declare war on Britain. The War of 1812 started in 1812 and ended in 1815.
In 1812, the state of Louisiana was admitted as the 18th state of the USA. The new state comprised a portion of the territories purchased in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
During the War of 1812, British Royal Navy dominated the waters around North America. When American troops burned Port Dover in Canada, British forces invaded the American capital city Washington D.C. British soldiers burned a number of important buildings such as the White House and the Capitol building, causing significant damage. However, most of the population including the government officials and President Madison had already left the city.
The War of 1812 continued until 1814 but without any decisive results. Both Britain and USA finally decided to pursue peace. This led to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814. According to this treaty, the pre-war borders were restored and friendly relations between the two nations resumed.
James Monroe became the 5th President of the United States. Monroe was one of the Founding Fathers of the USA. During his Presidency, the USA took many important measures such as the Treaty of 1818 and the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine.
Indiana was a frontier region in the early 19th century. In order to fortify it against the threat of Native Americans, Indiana was granted the status of a state in 1816. It effectively became the 19th state of the United States. A large number of European immigrants flocked to the state to settle there.
Harvard Law School was established in 1817. It would go on to become one of the most prestigious law schools in the US and around the world.
In 1817, Mississippi was admitted as the 20th state. It was scarcely populated at the time, except by plantations and plantation owners. Most of the land belonged to Native American tribes who were steadily forced to sell it to the white settlers.
Illinois became the 21st state in 1818. Most of the population of Illinois was opposed to slavery and it was a free state, although some of the citizens held slaves.
Alabama was admitted as a new state to the Union in 1819. It effectively became the 22nd state of the USA. It comprised of large cotton plantations worked by slave labor. As a result, it was categorized as a slave state.
Slavery was already becoming a contested issue between the North and South in 1819. To resolve the conflict, Missouri Compromise was reached between the two sides. In this compromise, Maine was admitted as a free state. It became the 23rd state. At the same time, Missouri was admitted as a slave state. This maintained a balance between the freed and slave states.
The Monroe Doctrine was promulgated during the Presidency of James Monroe. This declaration forbade European nations from attacking or colonizing any free and independent states in North and South America. The US adopted this policy so that any future interference of European powers in the American continent could be checked.
John Quincy Adams was the son of John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers and the second President of the USA. John Quincy Adams became the 6th President of the United States in 1825. He served for a single term and left office in 1825.
Andrew Jackson became the 7th President of the USA in 1829. He gained fame by famously defeating British forces in battles during the War of 1812. Jackson was a strong president who took bold measures and stayed popular throughout his two terms which ended in 1837.
In the 1830s, Oregon Trail became a well-established route to travel from Missouri in the east to Oregon City in the Pacific Northwest. During the decade, more than 400,000 people used the trail to make the trip.
President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This act authorized him to remove Native American tribes in the south and relocate them to federal reservations in the west. The Act resulted in the forcible removal of several Indian tribes from their native lands.
The Black Hawk War was fought between a group of Native American warriors under the leadership of Black Hawk and US forces. It started in April 1832 and concluded in August 1832 with the decisive defeat of the Indian forces.
Before becoming a state of the US, Texas was part of Mexico. With the influx of more and more white settlers, Texas began to assert its independence. In 1835, Texas Revolution began. The revolution sought to gain independence from Mexico and establish a republic. The revolution was successful and the USA recognized the Republic of Texas in 1837.
In 1838, the Cherokee Nation was forced to give up ancestral lands in the South and march thousands of miles to the west. On the journey, 4000 Cherokee died. The journey became known as the Trail of Tears.
In 1844, Florida was added to the United States as the 27th state. It was previously organized as the Florida Territory.
In 1845, Texas formally became a state of the USA. It was admitted to the Union as the 28th state, existing for some period as the Republic of Texas between its independence and statehood.
The Mexican-American War broke out in 1846 over claims to Texas. The war continued for the next two years and concluded with a decisive victory for the United States.
In 1848, gold was discovered in California. This led to a gold rush which attracted hundreds of thousands of prospectors to the region. The rapid hike in population helped California attain statehood soon afterward.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854. This act created two new territories – Kansas and Nebraska. The issue of legitimizing slavery was raised again and the act stipulated that the popular vote shall decide it. However, it led to illegal measures, riots, and other problems.
The USA had steadily expanded westwards during the first half of the 19th century. In 1854, much of modern-day Arizona and New Mexico were further added to US lands through Gadsden Purchase. The USA purchased these lands from Mexico for $10 million.
Pony Express was founded in 1860. It drastically reduced the mail delivery time from Missouri to California. Delivered on horseback, Pony Express transported mail over 2,000 miles in a mere 10 days. The company operated successfully for nearly a year after which the transcontinental telegraph made it redundant.
Abraham Lincoln was elected the President in 1861. He had a clear anti-slavery stance. After his election, southern states began to secede from the Union. This led to the American Civil War which was fought between the anti-slavery states of the North and the pro-slavery states of the South.
Abraham Lincoln issues his famous Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. According to this proclamation, all slaves in the southern states were declared free. This was a landmark moment in the Civil War and for the abolitionist movement.
General Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Union commander General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865. This effectively marked the end of the Confederate military effort, securing a victory for the Union forces.
Shortly after the Union victory in Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre.
The Great Chicago Fire broke out in October 1871. It raged on for more than two days and consumed 3.3 square miles of Chicago city. Nearly 300 people died in the conflagration.
The Battle of Little Bighorn was fought between Lakota and other Indian tribes against a regiment of the U.S. Army. It was a decisive defeat for the Indian warriors. The battle became famous for Custer’s Last Stand.
Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. His landmark invention made it possible to transmit vocal sounds over a distance using transmitting equipment.
The Nez Perce War took place in 1877. This war was more a series of small skirmishes between a group of Nez Perce people traveling towards the Canadian border and a U.S. army pursuing them. It ended with the surrender of the Nez Perce and their forceful relocation to a reservation.
President James Garfield was fatally shot in July 1881. He succumbed to his weeks a few days later. He was assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau who sought a political position for supporting Garfield but was refused.
In 1890, U.S. soldiers surrounded a Lakota village. An accidental rifle shot led to the massacre of more than 150 men, women, and children in the village. This unfortunate incident became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Cuban independence put the Spanish colonial government in Cuba and United States at odds. This ultimately led to the Spanish-American War in which Spain was defeated and Cuba gained its independence.